DESCRIPTION: Spring ritual song; "Robin Hood and Little John they both are gone to fair-O"'; other verses similar. Cho.: "Hal-an-tow/Jolly rumble-O/For we are up as soon as any day-O/For to fetch the summer home, the summer and the May-O...."
EARLIEST DATE: possibly 1660 (mentioned by Nicholas Boson of Newlyn); first actual text 1846 (Sandys); Palmer claims another text from 1838
LONG DESCRIPTION: Spring ritual song; "Robin Hood and Little John they both are gone to fair-O"; "Where are the Spaniards that made so great a boast-O/They shall eat the goose feather and we shall have the roast-O"; "Of all the knights in Christendom St. George he is the right-O." Chorus: "Hal-an-tow/Jolly rumble-O/For we are up as soon as any day-O/For to fetch the summer home, the summer and the May-O/For summer is a comin' in and winter is a-gone."
KEYWORDS: magic ritual dancing nonballad Robinhood
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South))
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Dixon-AncientPoemsBalladsSongsOfThePeasantryOfEngland, Song #12, pp. 187-189, "The Helstone Furry-day Song" (1 text)
Bell-Combined-EarlyBallads-CustomsBalladsSongsPeasantryEngland, pp. 387-389, "The Helstone Furry-Day Song" (1 text)
Reeves-TheEverlastingCircle 62, "The Hal-an-Tow" (1 text)
Kennedy-FolksongsOfBritainAndIreland 92, "Hal-An-Tow" (1 text + Cornish translation, 1 tune)
Palmer-EnglishCountrySongbook, #135, "Helston Furry Dance" (1 text, 1 tune)
Gundry-CanowKernow-SongsDancesFromCornwall, pp. 10-11, "The Helston Furry Dance, or Flora" (1 text, 4 tunes); pp. 12-14, "The Hal-an-tow" (3 texts, 1 tune)
cf. "Maidens of England, Sair May Ye Mourn" (words of unknown meaning)
Haile an Taw and Jolly Rumbelow
NOTES [688 words]: A May song and Maypole dance. A version is still performed along with the Helston Furry Dance on May 8th of every year. Kennedy-FolksongsOfBritainAndIreland's Cornish words are a revivalist translation from the English. The phrase "Hal-an-tow [taw]" is variously translated as "heave on the rope" and "hoist the roof." - PJS
Both "hal-an(d)-to" and "rumbelo/rumble-o" have provoked extensive scholarly discussion, mostly because they exist in the far older song "Maidens of England, Sair May Ye Mourn" (which see). This pushes the origins of the phrases back at least to the fourteenth century. Without quoting all the various versions cited under "Maidens of England," here is Michael Prestwich's modernized text (Prestwich, p. 81), which he describes as "a song mocking the oarsman's chant of 'Heavalow, Rumbalow'":
Maidens of England, sore may you mourn,
For you have lost your men at Bannockburn with 'Heavalow'.
What, would the king of England have won Scotland with 'Rumbalow'?"
This seems to be the citation that has drawn all the attention, but in Ravenscroft's Pammelia there is a version of the song indexed as "My Lady Went to Canterbury" which has these lines:
heave and hoe Rumbelo,
hey trolo troly lo,
hey trolo trolly hey
So the words continued to be used in some form for many centuries (Bannockburn was in 1314, Ravenscroft published in 1609, and this song was found in the twentieth century).
Kennedy-FolksongsOfBritainAndIreland offers two alternate explanations for the words Dutch "Haal aan het tow, "haul on the rope" was taken over by Cornish sailors as "hal-an-tow." Alternately, "hal an to/taw" may be Cornish for "raise the roof." It is not obvious how this phrase, whatever its origin, would be combined with the northern "rombylogh."
The verse about the "Spaniards that made so great a boast-O" presumably refers to the Spanish Armada of 1588, which signally failed to invade England and suffered losses of thousands of men and dozens of ships.
In the Complaynt of Scotland of 1549, we find a reference to a song "Sal i go vitht zou to rumbelo fayr?" (Complaynt, p. lxxxv), but even if "rumbelo" is a word and not a place name, that doesn't tell us what it means!
Whether any of these explanations is true, or none, the "rumbelow" refrain was well enough known that W. S. Gilbert used it in "The Mikado." In Act I, lines 67-71 (p. 265 in Gilbert/Sullivan/Bradley), we find the chorus
Then man the capstan -- off we go,
As the fiddler swings us round.
WIth a yeo heave ho,
And a rumbelow,
Hurrah for the homeward bound!
Bradley often has notes on Gilbert's sources, but of this he can only say "rumbelow: A meaningless combination of syllables or words, like 'yeo heave ho', used as a refrain by sailors when rowing or performing some other routine and rhythmical task. In some editions of the libretto the phrase is altered to 'a rum below'."
Alexander, p. 99, also gives a reinterpretation, printing "Jolly Rumble, O!" for "jolly rumbalow."
Kennedy's Cornish words are by Talek and Yleweth, as are many of his other Cornish songs. Talek (E. G. R. Hooper) is perhaps the most interesting of the Cornish revivalists. Berresford Ellis, pp. 182-183, has this to say of him:
With the death of Nance, E. G. R. Hooper (Talek) was elected as [the third] Barth Mur [Grand Bard]... in 1959 [and served until 1965 when the rules forced election of another]. Hooper has been a great benefactor to the revival by his publication of much work that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. Perhaps his most notable achievement has been the editing and production of the all-Cornish periodical An Lef Kernewek in which has appeared much of the most notable writing in Unified Cornish.... A prolific translator and writer, he edited Kemysk Kernewek, a miscellany... in Cornish, published in 1964. An Lef Kernerek have also published, in 1962, Lyver Hymnys ha Salmow, containing 100 hymns and psalms in Cornish.
Parry/Shipley is not complimentary of most Cornish literature, which it calls amateurish, but mentions Talek's Kernow yn Catalunya ["A Cornishman in Cataluna"] as one of the few exceptions - RBW
Last updated in version 5.3
- Alexander: Marc Alexander, A Companion to the Folklore, Myths & Customs of Britain, Sutton Publishing, 2002
- Complaynt: James A. H. Murray, editor, The Complaynt of Scotland, volume I (Introduction plus Chapters I-XIII), Early English Text Society, 1872 (I use the 1906 reprint; the Complaynt was published in 1549)
- Ellis: P. Berresford Ellis, The Cornish Language and its Literature, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974
- Gilbert/Sullivan/Bradley: Ian Bradley, editor, The Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan 1, Penguin, 1982 (I use the slightly revised 1985 edition)
- Parry/Shipley: John H. Parry, article on Cornish in Joseph T. Shipley, editor, Encyclopedia of Literature, Philosophical Library, 1946 [a collection of articles about the literatures of various languages of the world)
- Prestwich: The Three Edwards: War and State in England 1272-1377, 1980 (I use the 2001 Routledge paperback edition)
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